Munk One, Munk School

Student reflections on the MUN105 SDG labs and Dragons' Den

Every year, the Munk One program is capped off with a memorable Dragons’ Den-inspired pitching contest. Working in small lab groups based on a UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of their interest, students get to present the solution they have worked on all semester to their professors, peers, TAs, program alumni, and a panel of judges with rich professional experiences. Not only do they get to demonstrate the rigorous research and rationale behind their proposed solutions, but they also receive valuable feedback and questions from the judges to further refine their idea and bring it one step closer to real-world implementation.  This year’s judges included Hamoon Ekhitiari (Founder, Audacious Futures), Julie Gelfand (Former Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development), Marva Wisdom (Director, the Black Experiences Project – GTA), and Robert Fonberg (Former Deputy Minister of Canada).

This year marked the second time the event was held online, and students expertly presented their ideas over Zoom on April 8th. We caught up with a member of each SDG lab group to get their reflections on the experience. Read their takeaways below!

Zaiboon Azhar – Group SDG #1 (No Poverty)

Every Munk One student wants to change the world.

The MUN105 lab experience put this desire to the test, teaching us that regardless of how badly you want to implement change, the method in which you do so is infinitely more important. Each class was a challenging experience in which we were made to confront the nuances of some of the world’s biggest problems. We all want to implement large-scale change, but MUN105 taught us that large-scale change is not always effective change, and it is often necessary to narrow down the demographic you want to serve to maximize your impact. Poverty is an incredibly complex and multidimensional issue, and we learned how easy it is to fall prey to a technocratic perspective, perceiving poverty as a problem to be solved as opposed to an experience with interconnected causes and effects. For this reason, connecting with individuals who have lived the circumstances we were attempting to mitigate was an incredibly important and rewarding part of the process. The perspectives we gathered from our primary investigation were invaluable and contextualized a problem that we’ve been viewing from the outside, allowing us to understand poverty from the lens of those we were attempting to serve instead of as university students tasked with solving a problem.

Rafay Shamsi – Group SDG #3 (Good Health and Wellbeing)

MUN105 served as the escape that all five of us needed in our hectic weekly routines. The lab was more of a place where we all felt comfortable rather than anxious or nervous about our future tasks. While I would have been more than happy to just end the term walking away with the close bonds and friendships I formed, winning the Dragons’ Den made the experience all the more remarkable. Perhaps, it was our friendship that was the very reason our work as a team succeeded. From working around four hours a week since January, conducting online interviews, late-night research calls or just simply goofing around with one other, we all cherished working together over the past eight months. Choosing a complicated and nuanced topic, we knew it would not be easy due to the numerous obstacles in place. However, after meeting with experts in our field, we learned more about how we can reduce neonatal deaths within Punjab, Pakistan. Our goal is not to back down but to ensure that our intervention is implemented within Lahore and that phase by phase, we evolve into an organization that tries its best to serve the underprivileged. Special shoutout to our TA, Dory Abelman, for making everything possible with his commitment and dedication.

Olivia Sun – Group SDG #4 (Quality Education)

It is incredible to think that in my first year of university, I already had the opportunity to practice proper social science research skills and pitch an intervention to such an accomplished panel. My teammates only made the experience all the more enjoyable. We come from various backgrounds – Chinese, Brazilian, Malaysian, Greek – and hold different interests, but one thing connected us all: a belief in quality education. After lots of discussions, we agreed that female refugees faced unique barriers to vocational education. Although we initially struggled to find relevant statistics and a guest speaker, we were able to meet with members of the Refugee Women’s Network, which provided us with extremely insightful information. Apart from being beneficial for our research, hearing from the Refugee Women’s Network about female refugees in Toronto experiencing abuse from their partners and lacking access to technology struck a chord with me. The problem SDG 4 was dealing with became all the more real. Furthermore, our team is beyond grateful for all the effort our TA, Justin Lau, put in. He critically prodded at our ideas to fill in any gaps, he was organized and time-efficient, and he consistently provided excellent feedback. I know our pitch could not have received an honourable mention without his support.

Jon Angell – Group SDG #15 (Life on Land)

The solution we proposed in the Dragons' Den was the product of many hours of brainstorming, idea changes and refinement. A key challenge for our group was balancing ambition with practicality: how could we action our big ideas with the skills and resources at our disposal? The discussions we had with our professor, TA and relevant experts throughout the course were of great help in this regard. They allowed us to understand what it really takes to identify a pressing issue and create a context-specific solution that addresses it. To be effective, our solution needed to be tailored to the needs and interests of the stakeholders who would be involved in it. Once we had finalized our intervention, the next challenge was to condense it into a ten-minute presentation for the Dragons’ Den. This process helped us to identify aspects of our intervention that needed clarification, as well as ways in which it could be best presented to judges. Our presentation was the final component of a learning process that continued throughout our MUN105 experience. We learned firsthand how complicated sustainable development issues are, as well as what’s involved in the challenging but rewarding process of addressing them.

Ciara McGarry – Group SDG #16 (Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions)

Agreeing on the topic that we wanted to tackle was definitely a challenge. Our group met over and over again and kept arriving at an impasse. Finally, our TA, Emily Tsui, mentioned issues in Canada’s North as this was her personal research interest, and our group was instantly captivated by the importance of this issue. Next, we embarked on research. We found that barriers in the North would make many potential interventions difficult; namely, there were barriers due to cost, distance, lack of technological resources, etc. We decided that we should keep our proposal simple and elegant, which is how we came to the idea of a tool library, a tried and tested model. Emily could not have been more helpful as we worked through this problem. She had so much useful knowledge and suggestions that she shared with us. She never held back in pointing out flaws in our proposal as we refined it, and we could not have been more grateful for that. We also had the wonderful opportunity to meet with experts in Nunavut housing issues, such as Frank Tester and Gloria Song. My favourite lessons were the ones with these guest speakers who provided so much useful knowledge and provided interesting stories of their own personal experiences. I’m sure I can speak for the whole group in saying that we’re incredibly grateful to Emily for organizing these lessons with guest speakers. In the week preceding the pitch, our group worked together well, and I was so grateful to be able to rely on my group members as we finished the script, slides, and brief relatively smoothly. Thank you to Munk One for this wonderful experience!